Monday, August 31, 2015

zazen

Passed along in email:


"The White Man's Burden"

"The White Man's Burden" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling that was first published in 1899. Depending on the point of view, it is a clarion call to a firm imperialism or an invocation to share the world's riches in knowledge and culture.

I have a very hard time reading it, even at this late date, and not cringing at the arrogance that, in the poem at least, is out-front and honest. In these days of Facebook and Twitter, much of what Kipling alluded to is filtered through and camouflaged by Harvard- and Yale-educated ministrations of neo-conservatives like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney: The world and its fuzzy-wuzzies are in dire need of a self-congratulating, self-referential hand.

Here is the first salvo of Kipling's seven-stanza poem:
Take up the White Man's burden, Send forth the best ye breed
  Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
  Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.
Oh yes, it's old and quaint and obviously critique-able. No one thinks like that ... sort of. Only of course the underpinnings of a lot of policies find nourishment in the lightly-veiled confines of "the white man's burden." And individuals are not exempt. If something works better and is more kindly, who will be dubbed 'cruel' for sharing such information or capacity?

In the Brazilian jungles, there was once a Roman Catholic priest who later lived across the street from me in Springfield. Tony was doing his Vatican duty by the tribal Indians he came to love. But he had to rein in his knowledge if he was to gain the trust and respect of the tribe. And so, for example, if the solution to a difficult birth was to beat the woman on her stomach with a stick, who was he to gainsay what may have been hundreds of years of tradition and experience? He said nothing and paid an interior price, he told me.

You know something that is better but is it really better until the one exercising a not-better option discovers and puts it into practice himself? Sometimes there are very good reasons -- though perhaps superstitious -- for doing wrong or hurtful things. Shall the 'white man' step in and ease the load (and simultaneously gain mineral or other wealth perhaps) or shall s/he hold a tongue or lash longing to "improve" a scene that is different from the scene at hand.

So many motivations. So many possibilities. So many prejudices. So much goodness or evil. At least Kipling presented an out-front depiction ... something not quite so haunted by ulterior motives or assertions. It revolts me right down to my toes, but I have to admit that revulsion and 50 cents will not even get you a bus ride these days.

Who is this 'white man?' I doubt seriously that the color of his skin makes a hell of a lot of difference. America in the Philippines. Japan in China. And Britannia rules the waves ... right in my bathroom mirror.


automotive delight

Passed along in email was this bit of automotive history/love:

 
I like it when someone takes the trouble to research and touch and be a fool for what s/he loves. It doesn't always yield positive results and yet, somehow, how could it not?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"The Story Stick"

I've decided to dub it "The Story Stick" -- a six-foot tall maple sapling that I stripped of bark, sanded, burned a little design into and had a small, tinkling bell affixed by an ironsmith to the top.

I met the sapling forty years ago in a third- or fourth-growth stand of unremarkable trees upcountry from here. It stood in the woods forty years ago and for some reason I wanted it for a walking stick, though I didn't use one. It wasn't significantly different from the saplings around it. I cut it down, trimmed it a bit, and saved it until 2011 when at last I got around to 'finishing' it. Kept it for 40 years: That's quite a stretch.

What was its magnetism? I really don't want to make a magical mystery tour out of some 'mystical' connection between us, but there is something a bit odd about keeping this stick for forty years without doing anything until I did, in fact, do and have done something.

Nowadays, when I go for my ritualized old-fart walk around the block, the stick comes with me, tinkling now and then. There is no real melody. The stick just does what it does ... and keeps me company.

Now and then, I will stop to chat with people who may be tending their yards or passing by and sometimes they will comment on my stick. "You look like a shepherd," the plump lady down the street said. "Where are your sheep?"  Others have suggested, "You look like a wizard" or asked, "What is it for?"

And more than one person, like the man yesterday, has asked, "Did you make it?" The question leaves me strangely flummoxed within. I would like to be honest, but honesty somehow escapes me. Naturally, I didn't make the maple. Naturally, I did 'make,' in some sense, the design and finish. Who made this thing? As I say, I don't want to make a federal case out of it -- some mystical la-la talk, but I wonder for myself as well: What is this stick that walks and talks with me? It's just a stick, for heaven's sake ... but it's a stick with a statement. The bell tinkles. Is it a warning or an invitation? Is it just another ego trip?

How shall I sum it up.

And today it came to me that calling it "The Story Stick" was pretty good. The story stick is a thing that allows others to create their own stories without interfering. It is magical because there is no magic.

Or, put another way, there is only magic.

How nice in this day and age when everything seems to be teeming with too much information to process and make use of to find something so simple. It doesn't plug in. It doesn't demand anything. It has no angle and there is no 'benefit' in it. It is no threat: It's just a stick... sort of.

It's just a story stick, calling out the art and artistry that anyone might apply. Easy-peasy.

It's just a story stick like you or me.

Or, perhaps, it's just this story I have tried to tell.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Donald Trump's campaign

Passed along in email....

This might be funnier if the other 16 Republican candidates were saying anything more consequential:


be wise ... live long enough

I wonder if there is a corollary to Andy Warhol's "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Maybe it's not exactly a corollary but rather another way of saying the same thing.

Anyway, what popped into my head was that anyone who lives long enough is likely to find his or her ideas embraced as being both right and wise.

The trick is to live long enough.

son's new job

Like a kaleidoscope held ever so delicately, a slight, slight shift ... a small "chink" as, perhaps, a single stone realigns itself ... and, voila, it's a whole new picture -- the same, but different. The what-was becomes what-is and some mild sigh wonders what ever happened to the lovely what-was that no longer is and yet is not missing either.

Yesterday, my older son announced to me that he had gotten (it seems to be about 98% sure) a track-coaching job a Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. In tandem with janitorial duties during the second shift, it may be enough to support him. The job represents a shift away from his 70-hour work week coaching track and being a teacher's aide here in Northampton. He will move away. They're paying peanuts, but the college venue is a star on his resume. It is the institution's first time to hire a track coach, my son said.

I am happy for him and simultaneously I don't want him changing my kaleidoscope, which has included his presence here at home.

If I were a Zen student, I would see through and see beyond and be content with the chink-chink-chink of the kaleidoscope. But I'm not: I figure I am providing those who imagine they are Zen students with fodder for their expectation/attachment wisdoms.

What a good guy I am.

I will miss my son.

Friday, August 28, 2015

protected from necrophilia

I can imagine, but don't know, that politicians might feel a bit beleaguered by an electorate that is skeptical of their capacity to think and act.

Yes, there is plenty of criticism to go around and there is a broad brush to be employed, but somehow that brush should not be applied to individual lawmakers whose bathroom mirrors reflect something more compatible with their well-scrubbed versions of themselves.

But sometimes there is a stupidity that crosses a line. What line it's hard to say, but the mind brings down the judgmental gavel ... how fucking stupid can you get?!

Take the case of a bill that would make necrophilia illegal in Massachusetts -- my home state. Surely screwing dead bodies is weird, to say the least, and offensive to those willing to impose a sanctity on dead bodies. But does the dead body mind and does this weirdness warrant a 20-year jail term?

And it gets weirder than that when the onlooker factors in the discovery that there has not, apparently, been a single case of such necrophilia documented in the state. Do the good citizens need a law that has never been broken in the first place? Don't politicians have more substantive matters to address?

Does this stupidity outshine 'ordinary' stupidities and cross over into blatant idiocy. As I say, the line is hard to winkle out, but it sure feels like excess to me.

The backstory:
State Representative Aaron Vega has been pushing for an explicit ban on necrophilia in Massachusetts, saying law enforcement’s hands were tied in a recent case. But that may not be true.
Under the bill, anyone found to have had sexual intercourse with a dead person would face up to 20 years in prison. Vega said a Holyoke police captain, Denise Duguay, came to him with what he calls a “loophole in the law,” in which a murderer would escape punishment for raping a victim — if the sex act occurred after the murder.
“There was a body found in the last couple years, [with] this exact scenario,” Vega told us Wednesday.
It turns out that Vega had been presented with a hypothetical rather than an actual scenario. The high-minded (or should that read "idiotic") Vega was undeterred:
Vega says the lack of a specific case doesn’t take away from the necessity of his bill.
The whole thing feels like a micro-version of the "terrorism" push -- as if, somehow, breaking the law were not enough and a new layer of virtue and manipulation had to be added on top. It is already illegal to mess with dead bodies and that, presumably, includes sexual contact... much as it is illegal to kill others and hence "terrorism" is not so much a means of protecting the public as it is a matter of consolidating political power.

Do I actually need to keep paying the salary of those like Aaron Vega whose efforts might better be spent on schools or infrastructure or even just shoveling a snowy sidewalk? Yes, a certain amount of waste is inevitable in any project, but isn't there a point at which that waste deserves to be called out?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

think RED

On the American comedy show "Saturday Night Live," actor Dan Ackroyd once did a stand-up schtick as an ersatz salesman hawking "hotel and motel art."

This was art that had been "seen by millions" and therefore deserved to be purchased for placement above the living-room sofa. If so many people had seen it without complaint, it must in some sense be good and therefore worthy of purchase.

"Hotel and motel art" -- what a hoot. Hotel and motel art is the generally bad reproductions of great art hung in the tidy room a traveler might rent ... something to bring class or color or individuality or just a break in the monotony of a particular environment.

All sorts of 'good-taste' snarkiness can be applied (as Ackroyd did) to "hotel and motel" art, but the principle behind such wall hangings is probably well-met: It feels a bit human-er, if that's a word ... a little dash of color and evocation, even if you hate it.

The other day, I went to the doctor for one routine check-up or another. At first, I was ushered down a hallway that sported various bits of art. Got weighed and was led to an examining room where the tech assessed blood pressure and then told me the doctor "will be right in." It wasn't true, of course. It never is. The doctor is never "right in" from the patient's point of view. So I waited because that's what patients do and as I waited, I looked around the room that was perhaps 12x12 feet.

There weren't even any year-old magazines which doctors sometimes provide. There were various implements relevant to examination (a table, a basin, a computer, etc.) but no diagrams (specialists are sometimes big on discipline-specific diagrams) on the walls, which were painted in what I think of as the Early Flatline style ... mauve, a beige that was a bit browner than usual, and a soft, not-quite khaki green. It felt subdued and serious.

I could have used a little hotel and motel art. If color can transmit mood -- and I purely hate to hear "color specialists" go on about it -- then the mood imparted was geared towards calm and serious reflection ... almost solemnity. This was no-fooling around territory. No one expected to laugh. What the hell, it's life and death and patients take their own lives pretty seriously. Me too.

But then it grated and cloyed. Is there some reason that a dash or splash of RED could not be added? Look around your doctor's office. Look for RED. Red is the color of blood (and implied mortality, perhaps), but it also the color of life and living and dying is part of life, so let's be lively and perhaps laugh in the meantime. Easier said than done, you say? Yes, perhaps so ... but do the solemn, 'adult' colors have to be so insistent. Anyone, at any moment, can choke on a peach pit, but at least there was the sweet, lively nectar before the end.

RED ... hotel and motel art ... laughter.

The net effect -- to the extent that color can have a net effect -- is to impose and agree with and enhance the womb-gloom-tomb solemnity. Doctors are on hand to make things better or easier and yet the mausoleum effect speaks of nothing so much as ... read-'em-and-weep-you're-fucked.

Early Flatline ... the color combinations purely bubble with an unwillingness to speak of life.

Think RED.

dear God, please don't take my fictions!

In the post-facto telling, there appears to be a credible coherence -- a way to weave what happened into a the tapestry of understanding. Today the news wires reconstruct -- or is it "construct?"-- the fatal shootings of two TV workers by a disgruntled former employee in Virginia. The stories, like this one perhaps, seem to sooth and smooth the comprehension. It is news, it excites the attention, it is another shocking example of ________ (fill in the blank), but whatever it is, the stories ABOUT it bring a sort of mental solace that rests largely on the carefully-coiffed distance from the actual event.

The actual event, by contrast, is strangely mundane, pedestrian, inexplicable and ineluctable. Its plain-Jane factual nature is an utter gob-stopper and this mind refuses to be gob-stopped: I need an explanation, a pigeon hole, a salving framework in which any imagined world outlook can be reaffirmed. Kindness, killing-is-bad, social dissections, self-aggrandizement ... I mean ... I have feelings and principles and cornerstones and ... the facts simply don't give a shit.

It is like a deep prayer: God fill me with fictions and distances because the facts are ... are ... are just the facts, plain as salt.

The facts brush aside the stories, careless as a child stepping on an ant. The mundane 1-2-3 of it overwhelms all comers. Even the it-is-what-it-is bullshitters are swept aside: Go fuck yourself: Facts are facts and, JEEE-SUS!, I don't know what to do in the face of the almost-boring plainness of fact. I want to feel something rousing, cheering, brought-low, decimating ... but the facts do not accede.

This is a lesson that is hard to stomach ... or perhaps I am willing to surrender and say "impossible to stomach" but I hate the defeat. I am so used to the fictions that I am flummoxed by the facts those fictions claim to address. "Cut the crap!" the facts say. But I am not a crap-cutter. I am a maven of fiction, within and without.

The killing of the Virginia television employees is extreme and was carefully taken down from the Internet. And yet I wonder if it was taken down entirely because it was too "shocking" or "in bad taste." Or was it because, as well, facts are always this way and the reminder is unbearable. Plain, straightforward, neither filled with emotion nor lacking it ... ineffable in its effability.

I'm begging here -- pleasepleaseplease don't take my fictions ... you know, the ones that are already gone!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

trying to bury the journalists

During the Vietnam war, the flag-draped caskets of the dead or the rows of body bags awaiting transshipment were photographed for the benefit of an increasingly-restive public that was footing the bill for the war. In 1991, the bad-PR prop wash from such pictures and realities was well-remembered and the Bush administration said media coverage would no longer be allowed because it infringed on the privacy of the families affected.

This bullshit "caring" remained in place until 2009 when it was revealed that more than two-thirds of the families affected, when asked, said media coverage was OK with them. The "privacy of the family" was off the table in Dover, Delaware, where the latest crop of caskets is generally delivered, and elsewhere.

If there are no bodies, there is no war, right?

Now the Defense Department has taken another step in de-fanging an intrusive media that might unduly dull the rosy picture a military effort might prefer:
WASHINGTON (AP) — New Defense Department guidelines allow commanders to punish journalists and treat them as "unprivileged belligerents" if they believe journalists are sympathizing or cooperating with the enemy.
The Law of War manual, updated to apply for the first time to all branches of the military, contains a vaguely worded provision that military commanders could interpret broadly, experts in military law and journalism say. Commanders could ask journalists to leave military bases or detain journalists for any number of perceived offenses.
Now, it appears, a journalist who catches a military commander being a fuck-up or a fool can be dealt with summarily: Clap him/her in irons!

True, there is a tension between journalism and military needs. It has always existed. To my knowledge, no responsible journalist released information that would give "aid and comfort to the enemy." But covering and camouflaging bad or ignorant behavior? I don't know about you, but I prefer the most detailed facts possible when it comes to using my money to kill Americans ... or anyone else for that matter. Journalism is already corrupt enough without sending it further still into the brambles of agitation and propaganda.


a BIG fish ... really

Some fish stories are true...



A Canadian boy has caught a 486lb (220kg) tuna in Naufrage Harbour, off the coast of Prince Edward Island.
Koen Norton, 10, is hoping to secure the International Gamefish Association record for largest tuna caught by a child 10 years old or younger.

175 tons of tomatoes

BUNOL, Spain (AP) — More than 20,000 people have pelted each other in the street with tomatoes in this year's "Tomatina" as the Spanish event celebrates its 70th birthday.
At the annual fiesta in the eastern town of Bunol on Wednesday, 175 tons of ripe tomatoes were offloaded from seven trucks into the crowd packing streets for an hour-long battle.

where the helium runs out

Although one of the functions of age is to pretend to acknowledge that things do, in fact, change (it's so adult, dontcha know), still there is a lingering habit of believing/asserting that that observation applies to everyone else ... but not to me.

Last night, watching the TV quiz show "Jeopardy," three contestants above the age, I'd guess, of 45 or 50, were asked to identify a Hollywood star from a photo. On seeing the photo, I immediately identified the picture as Gregory Peck, a star of some stature as I was growing up.

Not one of the contestants even pressed the buzzer that would have allowed him or her to give the correct name and thus accumulate points in the game.

And even when I was confronted with the cold, hard fact, I found my mind racing around, trying to dredge up a reason that three reasonably intelligent and seemingly-informed adults could NOT identify what to me was so slam-bang, knee-jerk obvious.

Sometimes the obvious is far less pleasant and easy than I imagine.

This morning, after I dropped my wife off at work, I drove home listening to a public radio segment about the shifting sands within the Roman Catholic Church. A Google teaser says: "The scandals of recent years have destroyed popular support for the church in Ireland, with many Irish people ignoring the hierarchy's guidance on social issues."

Another monolithic assumption in my background -- the Roman Catholic Church which I always acknowledged as a force to be reckoned with even if I disdained it -- loses its helium. I have suspected or felt for some time that religion as a whole is sagging by impact and importance. Atheists may delight and may in fact be right, but from where I sit atheism is just another religion waiting to enter, stage left, perhaps.

The church, the NPR segment asserted, is no longer the voice of truth. It is no longer right just because the church says it is right. Its ineffable mystery -- the mystery to which the church fathers were exclusively privy -- is no longer front and center and woe betide the transgressor who doubts. Now, with the ineffable helium waning, the church -- and perhaps religion in general -- drips away into social and ethical action at its best. The monolithic mystery is outflanked and overcome... as, some might say, it deserves to be.

I grew up with a mystery I did not believe but whose force I could not deny. There were a hell of a lot of Catholics, much as there are a hell of a lot of people who credit a religious and spiritual arena. It would be unwise to ignore such numbers since numbers have the capacity for a great deal of harm. Some good, be it admitted, but also a great deal of harm.

Dribbling away. Hoist on its own petard. The church was a stone in my background castle-like tableau of understandings. Now, slowly, that thread is removed. It would be unwise to ignore the diminution in the same way it would have been unwise to ignore the accretion. But I am full of unwisdoms.

Another assumption of yore was that of all the boxers, Muhammad Ali was simply the best. Sure, he had a mouth as big as Donald Trump's, but Muhammad Ali was capable of proving his point -- a capacity Donald Trump, for all his money, cannot. And not only did Muhammad Ali have balls and skill in the ring. It was he who, when he converted to Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, refused to be conscripted into the American military. He was stripped of his heavy-weight title for that action. Show me one other high-profile personality willing to take on the opprobrium attending on that action. Like it or lump it, he stuck to his guns.

Another bit of identity in my castle of personality, a personality that somehow seems stuck in a rut, is thia: I am unwilling or incapable of choosing a new fighter or a new religion to remortar the castle I seem to have built. Things empty out and there seems to be no substitute to arouse my presumptuous creativity. True, I like Manny Pacquiao for both his skill and his generosity but ... well ... it's harder to find the willingness to remortar the castle or rethread the tapestry, however strangely bereft and crotchety I may feel. Muhammad Ali is still the best ... end of story, end of discussion.

But, but, but ....

Where have the assumptions gone? Where has the personality got to? The adult in me is willing to acknowledge the springtime break-up of the Alaska ice flow, but the one once comforted and held whole rebels: Gregory Peck, the Vatican, Muhammad Ali ... I mean, that's the way things are, right? And if the answer to that is "wrong!" then there must be something to fill in, to replace and restrengthen the interstices of change. A newcomer. A substitute. A helium boost.

But of course there is no "must" about it. The 'adult' in me sees all that.

But I am far from being an adult.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

summa cum stupid

Listening to the educational pooh-bahs, who seem to think a college education is worth the harrowing, swamp-like debts students can incur these days ... well, there's no doubt about it: A college education is good for the individual both in terms of inner maturity and outer financial gain.

But sometimes I wonder if college students, instead of being bathed in the light of wider and deeper understandings, aren't simply being offered a degree in certified stupidity. As more and more colleges scramble to keep the income flow bubbling, the willingness to accede to intellectual mediocrity (bell curves, mix-'n'-match disciplines, social caring smothering pointed examination, etc.) seems to be on the rise.
[BBC] A group of students at Duke University have [sic] refused to read abook assigned to all new students, saying the graphic novel's depictions of sexuality "compromised" their religious beliefs.
Fun Home was selected as "shared experience" reading for the Class of 2019 at the North Carolina university.
The novel is an autobiography of Alison Bechdel, a lesbian, whose father was a closeted gay man.
But some have taken issue with the novel's depiction of sex and nudity.
"I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it," student Brian Grasso wrote in a post to fellow students on Facebook.
Other students called the graphic novel, which inspired a Tony-winning musical, "pornographic".
The debate comes as US universities continue to grapple with students who disagree with assignments or lectures because of their religious or political beliefs.
It strikes me that part of a college's mission is to train students who are just smart enough to be stupid but not yet smart enough to be categorized as smart. If the whims and argumentations of a late teenager are to be taken as a reasonable yardstick for personal and civic accomplishment ... why then, I image, we would have a Congress of precisely the composition we currently have.

Sorry, but the violins of social kindness or tinkering only reach so far from where I sit. Intellectual mediocrity -- the unwillingness to investigate and perhaps rip to shreds -- an opposing point of view ... well... it's dumb and dumber and is bound to result in some palpable pain.

Up with mediocrity? There may be no escape, but that doesn't mean I can't whine.

PS. An unanswered question that has lurked and whispered for a long time: Is there any institution of higher learning that, in the course of passing out informational brochures, includes the number of students who were flunked out for academic reasons the year before?

Talk about a rock and a hard place....

Monday, August 24, 2015

rush to "terrorism"



[Reuters] French President Francois Hollande on Monday awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d'honneur, to three U.S. citizens and a Briton who helped disarm a machine gun-toting suspected Islamist militant on a train last week.
"Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that's humanity. You are the incarnation of that," Hollande told the four men.
The suspect's lawyer said on Sunday the man named by intelligence sources as Ayoub el Khazzani, 26, of Morocco, is "dumbfounded" they had him down as a suspected Islamist militant. She said he told her he only intended to rob people on board because he was hungry.
Napoleon Bonaparte, who established the medal based on merit rather than station, was said to have said, "You call these baubles, well, it is with baubles that men are led… Do you think that you would be able to make men fight by reasoning? Never. That is good only for the scholar in his study. The soldier needs glory, distinctions, rewards."

Well, the details of the news story have yet to be fleshed out. Surely a man who is heavily armed is probably out of place on a passenger train. And it seems that the medal recipients deserved all the credit they attracted. But the knee-jerk segue to "terrorism" strikes me as premature and politically convenient.

Isn't "breaking the law" sufficient to describing the situation? "Terrorism" envelopes an intention that has yet to be detailed and tends to frighten people beyond what a "law breaker" might. And how might the situation change if the armed man's intention was informed by extreme hunger rather than political agenda?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

riding out of the sunset

Within the last couple of months, I treated myself to a re-read of the plump novel of the old west, "Lonesome Dove." Its pages went by in smooth succession: Reading it was like lolling purposefully in some summer hammock.

And it was a short step -- or so it seemed -- to the sequel called "The Streets of Laredo," which took up some of the same characters as "Lonesome Dove" and introduced some new ones. But about 200 pages in, I'd had enough and stopped reading it. I tried to winkle out what made me stop. The book was OK, but something felt as if it were missing ... or maybe I had just run out of old-west steam.

One of the thoughts that occurred to me was this: People are interesting when they plan and make efforts to accomplish, but once having accomplished or failed to accomplish, the eye and focus wanders away from the scene.

And maybe it's the same in life: What is yet to be done is full of lively, edgy sparks -- wrong turns, revived effort and the like; what has been done is dying embers even on the best of days. Living on the past is like a baby with a binkie ... pacified, perhaps, but diaphanous and, somehow, inconsequential. Even the aging accomplisher knows this.

Great accomplishment or small -- what is interesting is the willingness and energy to reenter the fray and, perhaps, move a cattle herd from Texas to Montana, or realize a dearly-desired dream that is "out there" rather than "back there."

Resting on these laurels is impossible, but more than that, it simply isn't very interesting. And the capacity to be interesting wanes together with a fading musculature and, more important, a mind that has been-there-done-that enough times so that lolling in a hammock, while lonely on occasion, is the only thing that works ... or doesn't.

I always wondered what happened after the guy and gal rode off into the sunset, what happened after some soaring victory or smithereens defeat ... what happened then? But when someone offers to tell me, the fact is -- even in my own life -- I'm not really as interested as I would like to be.

The best I can do is borrow someone else's words ... in this case, Dylan Thomas: "Time passes. Listen! Time passes."

Riding out of the sunset.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Dismaland" offers an apology

An apology today from the newly-opened "Dismaland," the creation of the social activist Banksy in England:

We would like to apologise to anyone attempting to buy tickets online today.
Due to unprecedented demand “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”
is currently unable to process online ticket sales.

This Saturday and Sunday August 22nd and 23rd tickets will only be available on the door
(of the portacabin on the grass opposite the site) from 9am. After reaching its 2000 capacity entry
will be on a one in/one out basis.  Last entry at 9pm. This may result in some queueing and we
apologise for any inconvenience. Online bookings will be taken from Tuesday 25th August.

Dismal Land – a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism.
Are you looking for an alternative to the sugar-coated tedium of the average family day out? Or just somewhere a lot cheaper?
Then this is the place for you. Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus…
Open everyday from 22nd August – 27th September 2015.
11am – 11pm. Admission £3, free for the under 5’s.
Capacity is limited, visit the ticket page and book a time slot for guaranteed entry.

  FOR FIVE WEEKS ONLY

Contains uneven floor surfaces, extensive use of strobe lighting, imagery unsuitable for small children and swearing.
The following are strictly prohibited in the Park – spray paint, marker pens, knives and legal representatives of the Walt Disney Corporation.

 

not THAT crazy after all

All these years after the fact, I felt a wash of relief this morning: Someone is as crazy as I am (or was) so it's not all that unusual.

The instigator of this relief came in the form of a BBC article about a fellow who had constructed an elliptical pool table with a single hole.

While not precisely the craziness I nourished in college, it was close enough: At that time, I was crazy for billiards ... inept at math, but absolutely nuts for the game. I was so nuts that I would lie in bed prior to going to sleep at night and imagine hitting billiard balls around the walls of the room ... playing billiards in three dimensions ... calculating the spin and motion and direction and being endlessly fascinated. I never told anyone else ... it was just too crazy ... until this morning 55 years after the fact. What a strange relief.

I can't figure out how to embed the initial video that shows what's going on and I can't imagine anyone would take the interest that I did anyway. Here's a non-BBC youtube demonstration:


What a strange bit of relief.

"news" without data

Once, perhaps ideally, "news" was envisioned as the gathering of facts from which the reader or viewer was free or invited to reach his or her own conclusions.

Nowadays, perhaps too broadly, "news" is more likely an aggregation of conclusions from with the reader or viewer is required to sift out (based often on little or no data) the facts.

Consider the political candidates.
Consider the Department of Homeland Security.
Consider a well-entrenched religion.
Consider the fellow perched on the bar stool next to your own.

Not everyone packing a pistol is necessarily a criminal.
Not everyone packing a pistol is necessarily NOT a criminal.
Not everyone with a college degree is necessarily smarter than someone without one.
Not everyone lacking a college degree is necessarily less intelligent than someone with one.
Not every brown man with a black beard and a copy of the Koran is likely to blow up your 7-11.
Not every brown man with a black beard and a copy of Koran is necessarily benign.
Not every soldier is a blood-thirsty infidel dog.
Not every soldier is a benign peace-bringer.

It may be easier and more comforting to live in a world of conclusions, whatever they are. The social warmth is gratifying and supportive and human. It is a loving arena.

But the world of conclusions is also lazy, frightening, dangerous, vain, cruel, gullible and a host of other things that are ugly to a man or woman wishing to ascribe some sort of beauty and decency to life.

None of this is black-and-white or either-or, of course. There is often a willingness to collect some data in support of laws, for example, that put people in jail without a chance to face or defend against the charges laid. Ask the fellow on the next bar stool and the two of you may end up congratulating each other for your willingness to collect data and reach 'considered' conclusions.

Yup ... people are pretty decent and caring.

Right up to the moment when they are not.

No reason to give the moments when they are not a nudge or the kind of nourishment that goes with warming, unsubstantiated and lazy conclusions.

If people commit what are currently called crimes, lock 'em up or change the laws.

But the fact that they might commit a crime is part of the human terrain -- not a conclusion worthy of self-affirming and smug action.

Or that's sort of my conclusion at the moment.

Friday, August 21, 2015

the antidote

Passed along in email:


the mad dogs of 'Islamic State'



DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The Islamic State group demolishedan ancient monastery founded more than 1,500 years in central Syria Friday near a town where the extremists abducted dozens of Christians earlier this month, activists and a Christian priest said.
The extremist group posted photos on social media Friday showing bulldozers destroying the Saint Elian Monastery near the town of Qaryatain, which IS captured in early August.
A Christian clergyman told The Associated Press in Damascus that IS militants also wrecked a church inside the monastery that dates back to 5th century. The priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the monastery included an Assyrian Catholic church.
Reports on the so-called Islamic State are iffy in my mind, not least because I can credit foreign media as portraying its enemies in a bad, tightly-edited light. But my suspicions (the same suspicions I bring to bear when it comes to Israel's depredation against Palestinians) are leavened with the question, "Don't these people do anything positive. Is their every 'constructive' move only to be measured in the amount of destruction they can sow? Have they neither shame nor the capacity to reflect?" It is hard not to see them -- and see them as they wish to be seen, perhaps -- as mad dogs.

And too, their righteousness and exceptionalism really does provide a good object lesson to neo-conservatives like Dick Cheney and Donald Trump and other American 'patriots' and other religions ... which among them does not carry this mad-dog seed? And perhaps the only measure of their worth is the willingness not to nourish that seed.

No joke ... mad dogs -- for all their tail- and flag-waving -- invariably kill others, whatever the banner.

Mad dogs have little or no capacity to recognize their madness. Is it any wonder that the tactics of Islamic State -- in whatever hands -- would be brought to bear? God save us from righteous people!

It is vile.

And incredibly sad.

taxing Tampons

Australia's states and territories have decided not to remove an unpopular tax on femalesanitary products.
Unlike products such as condoms and sunscreen, sanitary products attract the 10% goods and services tax (GST) because they are deemed non-essentials.
A recent petition against so-called tampon tax attracted 90,000 signatures, and a rap was created and rallies held to campaign against it.

rain

I wish I could send the plump and insistent rain that has descended on our neighborhood to the firefighters and dispossessed in the West. Curb the inferno.

But it is not to be.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

success

Pick a topic, any topic, and then consider how much energy anyone might put into achieving or averting its various potentials. Scads and scads of energy in an effort, more or less, to be happy ... or maybe happier ... or something. I am thinking of this in a spiritual-endeavor context, but I imagine any context might do as well.

People working their butts off. Hard, hard work. Soaring effort. Enormous discipline. Energy that can segue into insanity sometimes. Thinking, weeping, dissecting, being confounded, fighting for clarity ... busting your chops.

But today I wonder with a soft imperiousness: What would it be like to be happy without ever lifting a finger ... being as still as salt through and through and coming upon or exhibiting what before had been a bright, bright goal. Not a thought. Not an emotion. Not a virtue or philosophy adduced. Not a finger raised ....

Et voila!

No effort at all. No lack of effort either.

If success required an effort, how could it be a success? A single, unintended fart and the universe is filled with redolent and wondrous light.

Make no effort.

Succeed.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

spiritual practices

Others have directed intent swaths of life-energy towards other pursuits, but I used a slice of my pie on spiritual endeavor... a juicy hunk of years in which I was serious or thought I was about the niggling and nagging that goes on below the surface or behind some socially-adept human wall or whatever. I don't put much stock in "better" or "worse," "more" or "less" fruitful ... hell, it's in the past and there's nothing anyone can do about that.

Any pedal-to-the-metal endeavor will teach rich lessons ... or anyway has that potential. Simultaneously, of course, there is always a rich patch of soil reserved for unrestrained idiocy and foolishness: It's just the price of wisdom, I figure.

And out of the deep pool that once consumed me, little left-over lessons seem to hang on.

A friend of mine once went to India to live and study at an ashram under the umbrella of a fellow named Rajneesh, a popular guru who ran afoul of the law here in the United States, but had a wide impact before all of his Rolls Royces caught up with him.

And my friend once sent me a packet of information from the ashram. It was, like all spiritual advertising, filled with information that was given a lopsided importance due to its "goodness" quotient. The packet did not make me want to run away to India or to join Rajneesh's happy band, but there was one suggestion I thought was very good.

Every morning, a pamphlet suggested, when you wake up, just lie in bed all alone for five minutes and ... laugh.

On its face, the suggestion has that treacly feel that a lot of spiritual exercises can impart. It sounds unutterably feel-good ... another example of Spirituality Lite. Not a ball-busting discipline, but rather something your rosy-cheeked and loving grandmother might impart.

I decided to try it. And so one morning ... I tried it. At first I didn't know where to begin. So I just faked it "heh-heh-heh...." It was embarrassing and stupid ... but I kept on trying: "heh-heh-heh." There was nothing to laugh at and no one to laugh with and ... what a lame-ass pastime. But I kept after it. And kept after it. And kept after it ... until suddenly I broke out laughing without any effort whatsoever. If this was crazy -- something that deserved a trip to the funny farm -- well, there was no one left to critique me and ship me out. No one was getting hurt and there was something apt and true about laughter ... not as a spiritual talking point, but as a point of fact.

Sometimes I wonder where the capacity to giggle has gone.

I don't know, but I do think the laughing practice has a lot to recommend it.


turning up the heat

Where the western United States is wracked and ravaged by wildfire and drought, here in the northeast, it is like living under a warm, wet cat. In the West,
Drought and heat have combined to make this fire season of the most active in the United States in recent years. Nearly 29,000 firefighters are battling some 100 large blazes across the West, including in Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and California.
And as if this were not enough, the drought in California has forced farmers to dig deeper and deeper for water that is no longer near the surface. The result is "subsidence," the land sinking as much as two inches per month as deep pools and aquifers are tapped. Sinking land, in present and future, has the capacity to threaten a wide variety of structures (bridges, buildings, power lines, etc.) that rely on a steady landmass beneath their feet.
And, as another example of fiddling while Rome burns perhaps, Congress is on vacation and 17 Republican candidates, none displaying a coherent policy, dominate the political airwaves ... or worry about Hillary Clinton's email accounts. Not to mention involvement in widespread sectarian wars in the Middle East and a continuing U.S. mantram created to induce fear in a 'terrorist'-fearing electorate.

I'm not sure if it suggests the last laugh or the first tear, but there was this note out of Oklahoma:
OKTAHA — A member of a self-proclaimed Oklahoma patriot group was shot Tuesday morning in an apparent accident at an Oktaha survivalist store and gun range that last week made national headlines for posting a sign saying the establishment is “Muslim-free.”
I keep thinking that someone, somewhere, somehow will serious-up, but it is clear that what I see as fantasy and fantasmagoria in others is just my own fantasy run amok.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

signs of the 'terrorist' times

The following picture and text was passed along to me in email. I'd be lying if I said I didn't smile.

But also I noticed how easily -- mentally or socially -- the American fear-engendering propaganda about so-called terrorism has seeped into a wider consciousness. There was a time when it was acceptable to joke casually about "niggers" and "Japs" and "red necks" as well. This transmission may just be a small silly, but it is a silly that grows out of a wider earth, for my money. It's just a whisper, perhaps, but still... Muslims branded as terrorists when, to my mind, the neo-conservative flag-wavers and Patriot Act believers are honest-to-God more frightening and terrorist-prone.

As you may already know, it is a sin for a Muslim male to see any woman other than his wife naked and if he does, he must commit suicide.


So on September 11th, at 10:00 A.M. Eastern Time, all American women are asked to walk out of their house completely naked to help weed out any neighborhood terrorists.

Circling your block for one hour is recommended for this anti-terrorist effort. All patrioti c men are to position themselves in lawn chairs in front of their houses to demonstrate their support for the women and to prove that they are not Muslim terrorist sympathizers.

Since Islam also does not approve of alcohol, a cold 6-pack at your side is further proof of your patriotism.

The American government appreciates your efforts to root out terrorists and applauds your participation in this anti-terrorist activity.


P.S.
If you don't share this, you're a terrorist-sympathizer,

"murkophilia"

I am sitting here debating whether to put the word forward as a useful addition to the English language:
Murkophilia
One of the problems is, of course, that any description or dissection of the issue alluded to is likely to fall prey to the problem it seeks to lay out, i.e. the capacity, whether deliberate or unintended, to inject subjects with needless complexity.

Murkophilia -- the love of murk.

The problem may be summed up simply: If it smells like bullshit and sounds like bullshit, then, in all likelihood, it is bullshit. But bullshit is a malleable commodity: Sometimes it deserves to be dissed and dismissed and sometimes it is highly useful.

In any event....

Murkophilia is the love child of college students who are taking a final exam and run up against a question they don't honestly know the answer to but are aware that they should know. The result is a lengthy bit of eyewash filling the blue book answer sheet ... maybe the student can pull the wool over the teacher's eyes.

Murkophilia is the mark of anyone who has not bothered to study the honest complexity of a given topic but hopes to look good, sound profound, and not get caught. True, some topics are honestly complex, but the more complex any 'expert' makes things, the more likely it is that s/he has not done the homework necessary to an honest understanding.

But it's tricky too. On the one hand, murkophilia may burnish the chalice of a preening academic or politician, but the effect can backfire, as when the electorate listens with joy to simplistic political solutions to complex problems. Lately, for example, the Republican front-running candidate and billionaire, Donald Trump, has made a lot of hay with such anti-murkophilia simplicites, offering draconian, off-the-cuff solutions to issues like immigration into this country of immigrants.

In the end, perhaps, the chief characteristic of murkophilia is just the love of self.

But how refreshing it is so hear someone who knows his/her topic from muzzle to butt plate and can enunciate it without seeking out kudos or agreement: The issue is the issue and the razor wire of complexity, while available, is a matter of personal preference. If you know what you're talking about, is there anything valuable added by flashing your knickers?

Even murkophilia gets murky when anyone digs in. But is there a need to spread the murk around?

August newspaper column

Flimsy, but here is my August newspaper column that appears in today's Daily Hampshire Gazette under the headline, "Why Not Let Sleeping Questions Lie?" I really am running out of steam.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, August 19, 2015)

NORTHAMPTON — As once it was for the astronomers and poets of Egypt and Greece and Rome, so it is today as the dog days of summer reassert themselves in all their slurpy, sluggish splendor. Things slow down in July and August.

Literal dogs seek shade beneath the nearest porch. U.S. congressmen, who bring home a median $174,000 per year for an average three-day work week, take a well-defended summer vacation. Schools are still. Some of those with the wherewithal pile into cars and head for realms in which Twitter and Facebook cannot reach. Puffy clouds meander and float, as if to advertise a quieter, less-purposeful universe. The cubicle-crazed importance of winter is reshaped in the languid heat.

Dog days are a time to catch the breath in a hurried life.

One of my favorite dog-day pastimes is watching an 11-minute documentary called “Thought Moments.” (youtu.be/BPmsH7-OY4s) It’s a deceptively simple bit of filmmaking.

A Brit named Michael Simon Toon got an idea, grabbed a camera and walked the streets of several English communities asking people 10 questions to which any one of us might imagine there were easy answers.

The 10 questions were: 1. What is your name? 2. What do you do? 3. Who do you love most? 4. What do you hate most? 5. Who do you think is beautiful? 6. What do you think is ugly? 7. Are you happy or sad? 8. What do you most want? 9. What are you most afraid of ? 10. Why is the sky blue?

What I love about the film is the perplexity that can fill the faces of those attempting to answer. Nor am I exempt from that perplexity. These are questions whose fullness is dimmed in less attentive times.

The challenge of the interviews is this: These are questions about which there is no reason not to be honest. After all, taste is taste and who would know me better than me? But having been offered an opportunity to be honest, the question arises, “What, precisely, is my honest answer?”

What do I love most? Well, d’oh! I know that! What I most love is ... uhhh ... uhhh, uhhh .... What do I hate most? Well, that’s a snap ... or is it? What do I want most? Hold on a sec — I have to think about that one too.

The perplexity does not translate well to the written page. It is better seen and perhaps sympathized with in a filmed format. I did try the questions on my daughter, asking them without the presence of a camera. Not all of her answers were lifted from a book of self-help platitudes. Once or twice, she too was perplexed and it showed on her face. The chiseled answers just refused to materialize.

And perhaps that is the best part of a dog-day universe — the chance to be perplexed by what, during the rest of the year, is a lead-pipe cinch. Isn’t there something to be said for examining and being bereft of simplistic answers?

The perplexity such questions can arouse is a strange gift. Perplexity leaves me uncertain and wobbly. But when I see the visual evidence that others feel what I feel, I am warmed by the closeness we share.

Yes, we all know the answers. Yes, we are all deeply perplexed. Can’t both be true and isn’t this a more truthful indicator of a shared humanity?

When were answers anything other than a way of stating the next question?

Really: If I am not rock-solid sure of what I love or hate or fear, is there some reason to pretend that I am?

These are dog-day questions, perhaps, the ones asked when there is time to stop and smell the roses. They can easily be put on the back burner when the world of cubicles and productivity and mortgage payments and wealth management and social outrage sweep in on wintry, with-it winds. Roses that deserve smelling need not last forever, but it is nice to see them bloom and to sniff their scent occasionally.

It is nice to know something you or I might know.

Why is it any less nice not to know what we don’t?

Many years ago, Chuck, a friend of mine, was walking down a New York street with his then-young son when the boy asked the question all kids get around to: “Daddy — why is the sky blue?”

And without a moment’s hesitation, Chuck responded, “Because the smog lifted.” Not a dog-day answer, perhaps, but close enough.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at genkakukigen@aol.com.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

blowing up the Chinese bubble

Be it understood that what I know about economics would barely wet the bottom of a thimble, but this article about China's centralized efforts to shore up a sagging economy struck me as a good indicator of bubble in the making ... and bubbles have a tendency to pop.

plagiarist cardinal called out

A Peruvian newspaper has declined to print any more of a local cardinal's writings after the paper found that the prelate had plagiarized words of former popes without attribution.

It's part of the buck-and-shuffle of religious maneuvering -- using the sage words of forbears and then making it sound as if 1. the speaker/writer possessed a similar wisdom and 2. that his or her standing should therefore be elevated. It's just part of the gaming strategy, however cheap it may sound. I've seen/heard plenty of examples in Buddhism.

The Peruvian cardinal defended himself: "Cardinal Cipriani added that popes had no property rights over their words, as they were part of the heritage of the faith."

And you thought academics and politicians were the only slippery, self-serving customers.

hot and humid

This string of hot days, wet and fat as a washcloth, make me think of a single word:
LIQUEFACTION

original thinking

Elevator into space
Long before they were invented, my mother once suggested that books could benefit from cheaper "paperback" editions. The format would make more books accessible to more people. Reading, in the time of her suggestion, was considered useful, entertaining, and, to some extent, wise.

Now, paperbacks have come and gone pretty much. The idea of slowing down enough to read a 500-page book is anathema in a world of 141 Twitter characters. Musing and munching has taken on a quaint and annoying cast. Thinking and personal bias are hopelessly entwined. But that's another story.

What interests me vaguely is the fact that brand new ideas are almost invariably something that someone has already conceived of. Brand new merely means that something catches a local or widespread attention after a period of languishing.

And those who had the thought before the latest "brand new" thing is enunciated can find themselves irritable. I remember former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger -- in what context I don't quite recall -- sitting on a panel of younger men who were proposing some brand new approach to global policy or something similar. And at one point Kissinger grumped, "I thought of that 20 years ago." You could sort of sympathize: Putting something forward as brand new generally means someone wants to think well of him- or herself ... and to be 'credited with the idea.'

Having age and experience requires the addition of patience when it comes to old ideas regurgitated as "brand new." Or perhaps a patient redefining of "brand new" to a more reasonable, "brand new to me." The old dog may feel overlooked ... and so s/he is. It takes some patience to allow others to take up old cudgels.

Once I discovered Hinduism and then Buddhism, both of which had been around a hell of a lot longer than my life, at the time, was long. But it was all brand new and exciting as a fireworks show. Holy mackerel! What a discovery! Where had this wisdom been all my life?!

Well, I got to read about it in a paperback book or two.

Originality is overrated ... or maybe it's just a misnomer.

Consider, for example, the space elevator:
A Canadian space firm is one step closer to revolutionizing space travel with a simple idea – instead of taking a rocket ship, why not take a giant elevator into space?
Is there a curious 10-year-old anywhere who has not shaped a notion like that?

Monday, August 17, 2015

the cheap date of good and evil

Another leaden, slurpy day gathers itself outside my front door today. The mounting heat lurks and D-double-dares all comers to outlast and overcome and work efficiently.

Yesterday, I got the monthly newspaper column out the door and felt a shadowy sense of relief ... sort of like finally getting an offending tooth pulled. Since I don't accomplish much these days, it may be counted as an accomplishment. The column may not light my fires or carry much substance, but, "c'est ├ža!"

This morning, I skimmed an article sent along by a friend -- Onward Christian Military Chaplains! Marching to War by Rev. William Alberts -- which pointed out yet again the disconnect between the religious proscription against killing and the military chaplain's implicit support of a system bent on killing. 

It's an observation worth making and I agree with it as far as it goes and yet I am tired of such articles that do not give a nod to the human propensity to enjoy horror and hypocrisy and cruelty and self-aggrandizement. 

How much of what passes for goodness rests its case in the ain't-it-awful of wickedness that can be so wonderfully and slyly magnetic? The Vatican knew it had a winner when Dante fabricated the fund-raising hell for them ... in Technicolor!

Yes, there are facts.

And then there are other facts.

And virtuous fulminations hardly improve anything....

Good and evil are too often a cheap date.

Or anyway, that's what got stirred up in me this morning.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"souls in anguish"

If even the military establishment is beginning to recognize "souls in anguish," how, I wonder, will that military cope with what might be called the collateral damage of their own recognition? My guess is that they will gently, but firmly sweep it under the rug ... how are the spunky and under-informed youth that has always peopled the front lines of war going to be spurred on to the killing function?
"Souls in anguish" is how some experts describe this psychological scar of war now being identified as "moral injury."
Unlike post-traumatic stress disorder, which is based on fear from feeling one's life threatened, moral injury produces extreme guilt and shame from something done or witnessed that goes against one's values or may even be a crime. The term was introduced in the 1990s by a now-retired Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Shay, who recognized the problem in Vietnam veterans he was treating.

nudged into consciousness

There are hundreds of wonderful and horrific things happening in the world, but this feckless mind entered the day with two bits of thin-tea curiosity:

1. Wasn't the Mosin-Nagant rifle (used in World War I among other, multiple venues) a French weapon? No, it was Russian and seemingly as popular as the AK-47.

2. In London yesterday, over 60 actors participated in a 15-hour performance of Homer's "Illiad" ... and a lot of people turned out in one way or another to hear it. I have never read the Illiad and in my generation, that is probably something of an educational flaw. It's too late for me, but there is something pleasant about the almost counter-cultural British effort ... something literate in an increasingly-illiterate age. An educated rat-fuck of sorts.

And, having been nudged and tickled into consciousness by these two totally-useless bits of interest and information, it is time to get back to wrapping up the silly column I have promised to write.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

column effort

Whatever energy I've got needs to be applied to a flimsy column due next week ....

Friday, August 14, 2015

Guantanamo excuses




Before midnight on Friday, President Barack Obama's Justice Department is due to either block or accept a legal request to free a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who weighs 74 pounds (33.5 kg) after an eight-year hunger strike.Lawyers for the detainee, Tariq Ba Odah, say the way the department decides will be the clearest indication yet of how serious Obama is about closing the detention center before he leaves office in January 2017.
They accuse the president of being unwilling to use all his executive powers to empty the camp and are skeptical of his commitment.
"Honor Bound to Defend Freedom" -- how is this unexamined and unexplained axiom not a bit of banana republic eyewash? It used to be that a "speedy trial" was a cornerstone of American jurisprudence.

Japan shoulders its responsibilities ... sort of

On the one hand Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conceded today that Japan had inflicted "immeasurable damage and suffering" on innocent people during World War II. He stopped short of apologizing personally and in fact suggested that future generations should likewise sidestep any apology. So, thing referred to as "Japan" shouldered some responsibility, but not the entire load that might have called for an apology.

On the other hand, there are the Hong Kong merchants who were forced in 1941 by the invading Japanese to trade their money in for military "yen." When the war ended, the military scrip became useless. But now there are some Chinese who held onto their scrip who would like Japan to reimburse them.

Nobody is holding his or her breath: It seems that shouldering responsibility always has its limits and heaven knows the Japanese are not alone ... the American infatuation with "terrorism" springs to mind..

perfection and boredom

I wonder to what extent the "boring" qualities of anything reside in its perfection...

Or the extent to which the "perfection" rests in its boring attributes...

I just wonder.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

black balls in Calif. reservoirs

It may sound like a high-school science project -- or perhaps a reincarnation of Rube Goldberg come to life -- but 96 million black balls were dumped in a California reservoir earlier this week. Used in 2008 to combat carcinogens, the latest avalanche aims to counter the sunlight that leads to invasive plant growth and, additionally, to save a huge amount of water from evaporation.

I have a hard time getting my head around the bureaucratic discussions that must have preceded all this ... "Whaddya mean we spend $34 million and dump black balls in a reservoir?! Are we in the voodoo business now??!!"

time

If you sit very still, there are no clocks.

And where there are no clocks, there is likewise no time.

Time is an invention by an earlier inventor -- clocks ... which had their own inventive forbears.

I think it is good to reacquaint oneself with these facts from time to time. It is one less bauble to be schlepping from here to there.

It is like meeting an old friend: A smile will do ... together with a lighter step.

Julian Assange



Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into sexual assault claims against Julian Assange because they ran out of time to question him.
The Wikileaks founder said he was "extremely disappointed" and said the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story.
The Australian journalist and activist denies all allegations and has said they are part of a smear campaign.
He still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
Mr Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the US and put on trial for releasing secret American documents.
Strange to think that in all the time Assange has lived at the Ecuadorian embassy, I haven't seen a single argument or description that pinpoints his 'treasonous' activities and damage they have done to such high-moral-dudgeon entities as the United States.

Assange, in one way, has become a comforting thread in the tapestry of fear woven by the big business that is "terrorism." But no one has nailed down the actual-factual damage he has or is accused of supporting. The reasoning, no doubt, is that to detail his damage would be to reveal sensitive intelligence, an excuse that continues to cement the burgeoning big-brother government that pretends to protect while endangering all of us ... not least through our wallets.

Since Assange came on the scene, the willingness to arrest people for what they think or what they might do has taken giant steps forward even as the rule of law has been diminished. It is hard to remember that there was a time when the yardstick for incarceration was based solely on the actual commission of a crime.

No wait!

I forgot!

There were lynchings.

by accident, on purpose

In the port city of Tianjin, China, two huge explosions on Wednesday -- the first compared to three tons of TNT, the second to 21 tons -- claimed 44-lives (and counting) and left hundreds injured. To date, no one has suggested it is anything other than an accident in an area known to store hazardous materials.

In Baghdad, Iraq, a massive car bomb early today claimed at least 67 lives in a popular food market. The Islamic State, currently the most popular 'terrorist' organization on Western radar, took responsibility. Islamic State takes pride in a violence that it seeks to convert to something that is not called a dictatorship, but certainly hopes to call the social shots through its version of religious law.

It's just two incidents... 44-plus dead in one; 67-plus dead in the other. The first (it seems) by accident. The second very much on purpose.

There is a childish liberal inside me that asks, "Aren't the disasters that people perpetrate on themselves without intending to enough to suggest that prefabricating disasters is hardly necessary?"

It is, as I say, just a childish whining within.

"Zen Myth(s), Zen Reality"

Like some Las Vegas dancer checking personal details before bursting onto the stage, I wake up in the morning and straighten the seams or apply one last dab or lipstick or powder: In bed, I am comfortable-ish after a night's sleep, but I need to arrange the aches and pains that will attend on the coming, stand-up-and-move day. It's not that I want them but rather that I know they are coming and I want to get my ducks in a row. Ribs? Check. Joints? Check. Neck? Check. Sprained finger? Check.

And once those ducks were more of less lined up....

Yesterday, I spent a good deal of time considering a friend's essay, "Zen Myth(s), Zen Reality." Somehow, Brian Victoria (a Zen monk and academic who lives in Japan) and I have come into a relationship in which I lend my eyes to articles he is currently writing. Besides grammar, spelling and other mechanics, there is substance to attend to and yesterday, that substance took the stuffing out of me, so there was little left over for easy-peasy writing that once dripped out of my mind like water from a leaky spigot.

The substance boiled down to a small tussle about the word "enlightenment." It is strange how, in spiritual adventures, there are some words that are blithely assumed and seldom examined. "God" drips off the lips of believers and non-believers alike. "Enlightenment" is grist for the Buddhist mill.

But if such touchstone/cornerstone references are central to the critique or encomium, isn't there an intellectual imperative (at a minimum) to say what you're talking about or to admit (full frontal nudity) that it cannot be adequately described and thus whatever the argument, pro or con, it is far weaker than the seriousness that can be brought to the discussion?

These are not questions I would put to the superficial critics or cheerleaders, but they are questions I would put to Brian because 1. I like him and 2. He's not dumb.

So I made my email-based pitch and by the time I was done, I was quite tired, mentally and physically. Digging in and digging down takes an effort I once would have found merely invigorating, a stepping stone to the rest of a hopefully-more-productive day ... going to the supermarket, perhaps, or making the bed or doing a load of laundry or making dinner... something concrete and useful. Who in their right mind wastes a lot of time on "God" or "enlightenment?"

It's like pissing into the wind, isn't it?

Yes it is, but sometimes it is fun -- or at least I imagine it will be fun -- and the idea of fun appeals to me, even if, like "God" and "enlightenment" and "love," finding an adequate definition is like nailing Jell-O to a wall.

Zen argumentation vs. making the bed ... I can no longer be quite so careless: I need to do some triage if whatever energies I have are to be well-spent.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

end of the 'Great Recession'

Printed in the local Daily Hampshire Gazette yesterday under the headline "Whew, the recession is finally over."

By Jonathan Kahane

I've heard repeatedly on the TV and have read in the newspapers and magazines that The Great Recession is over.

Each time I get this information, I heave a sigh of relief, exclaim, "Finally!", and expect my financial situation to return to health within the following couple of minutes. I'm still waiting.

I can only suppose that everyone around me has recovered and I must be doing something wrong. I blame myself for not taking Economics 101 in college. Sometimes I blame my mother for throwing out all my baseball cards.

I have heard that often a person must reach rock bottom before one can begin to climb out of a bad situation. I tried this theory out the other evening by tuning into a Red Sox game. I watched them lose another heartbreaker in extra innings. It was 11:30 p.m. and I thought that surely I can't sink any lower than this.

Then, as if by magic, in support of the above-mentioned theory, the answer to my financial woes came to me loud and clear over the TV. A car dealer was exclaiming, "Save $7,000 by buying this Chevrolet."

Now I've heard of people claiming to have their problems solved by receiving a message from "above" or by having a vision, or by experiencing a dream. Surely, having one's problems erased by a car dealer must be a first.

It's amazing how one can get answers to seemingly impossible predicaments in the most curious ways. It would normally take me years to save $7,000 -- and then only if we had several winters where the average temperature was 60 degrees and if my refrigerator didn't continue to break down every month

I could barely sleep that night. I couldn't wait to get up and rush to the Chevy dealer to save my seven grand.

Naturally, I jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn the begin my new savings plan. On the way to the dealer, things got even better. There was a sign on the furniture store window telling me that I could save $500 if I bought a sofa. I made a quick stop.

In fact there were signs on every store informing me that I would save more money if I came in. Why hadn't I been aware of this before? Let's see, I saved $300 on a riding mower, $200 on a mattress, and finally $150 on that new refrigerator I needed so badly.

I then had to hurry to the Chevy dealer to save the big bucks. After saving my $7,000 and while I was driging home in my new car with a proud grin on my face, I stopped at the grocery store and saved an additional $6.73 on food. Every penny counts.

That came to a grand total in savings of $8,150.73 -- in one day! While accumulating all of this savings, I noticed that other stores could save me 15 percent on outdoor furniture, 20 percent on hardware supplies and 25 percent on a variety of online items. Heck, I can only save 1 percent at the bank. I got busy the next day adding to my savings. The is was alot easier than I thought.

Here it is a week later and I am feeling much more confident now about my ability to finally join the rest of my country and climb out of the The Recession. Hmmmm. Excuse me for a second. The sheriff is coming up my driveway. I wonder what he wants.